Child Doesn’t Answer Cellphone

Parents can find comfort in modern technology. Whereas “in the olden days,” letting children and teens go out into the night might have caused parents extreme worry and anxiety, today parents can keep in touch with their kids 24/7 through mobile phones. Of course, there’s still no guarantee that all is well, but the ability to check in does provide some peace of mind.

But what if your child doesn’t answer his or her cell phone? Should parents become immediately alarmed? Does not picking up mean that your child is in danger or hiding something?

Not always! There are many possible reasons why a child might not answer a parent’s call. The following are some of these reasons, alongside tips on how parents can handle the situation:

Your Child is Not Mindful of the Phone
Although this one is rare, it is still something to be considered: some kids are so attached to their cell phone, it’s practically welded to their palm. But there are also children who barely pay attention to their mobile, and merely have it on silent or vibrate mode somewhere in their bag. If your child is not expecting a call from you, it’s not unlikely that he or she just didn’t bother to check if anyone is calling.

If this is the case, the best thing for parents to do is to advise their child that they plan to ring, so that the child knows to always keep his or her phone handy.

It’s Not Convenient for Your Child to Answer the Phone
Sometimes, it’s just not the right place or time to answer the phone. Your child can be inside the cinema with friends, out in the field playing football, or crossing the street on a busy road. In the same way that you can’t be expected to answer your phone during these times, it’s unreasonable to expect your child to accommodate you.

What’s best is to ask your child where he or she is going so that you will know if ringing is advisable. If you know your child’s itinerary, then you would know when to ring. True, your child can always lie about the location in order to avoid your calls. But this is also a great exercise in trusting your child. Unless your child has a history of lying about his or her whereabouts, there’s really no reason not to take what your child says at face value.

You can also establish a rule on call backs. For example, you can contract with your child an agreement to call back within 30 minutes of a missed call. With such a rule in place, you won’t immediately panic when you don’t get a response. Of course, the 30 minute rule won’t necessarily solve the problem if your child is out watching a movie with friends, but it can still be helpful in most cases.

Your Child Already Knows That He or She is in Trouble
Sometimes kids don’t answer their cell phone because they sense that you are probably already angry at the other end of the line. If they’re out way after their curfew for example, it’s possible that they would avoid responding to your calls to avoid further stress.

If this is the case, explain to your child the effect of their behavior on you. Sometimes, kids don’t realize that parental anger is born out of being worried sick and fearing the worst. Tell them that whatever their offense may be, it would still be outweighed by relief in confirming that they are well and safe. Emphasize how answering your call at all times is a must.

In order to encourage your child to answer even when he or she is past curfew, be careful to avoid raging and unpleasant criticism. When your child answers be calm, polite and concerned. Take up discipline issues the next day, when everyone is awake and relaxed.

Your Child is Embarrassed to Answer the Phone
It’s also possible that your child is embarrassed to be seen talking to a parent. This is especially likely during the teenage years when kids are experimenting with their identity and their autonomy. Peers can tease them about always being “on a tight leash” or “being a mamma’s boy.” When this happens, your child may prefer to switch off his or her mobile rather than be caught talking to a parent.

Parents who are respectful of their kids’ feelings will have better communication and cooperation in the long run. Therefore, show understanding if your child claims to be embarrassed. Ask your child to suggest reasonable solutions. Keep in mind that teenagers are almost grown up and like grownups, they don’t want someone checking up on them every few hours. Perhaps you should be using the phone only for true emergencies and not to find out where your child is and what he is up to. Let your child go out and come home – don’t call! However, if your child is young or inexperienced, you can ask that he or she calls you when he or she arrives safely at a destination. For older teens, this isn’t necessary. In short, avoid acting like your child needs excessive supervision unless the child has already shown you through repetitive irresponsible behavior that this is truly the case. If your child has already established a track record of reasonable behavior, responsibility and appropriate maturity – let him or her go out and have a good time. There’s no need to call.

When You Don’t Approve of Your Child’s Romantic Partner

We were young once; we know how young love works. We also know intuitively, that if we interfere in something as private as a romantic relationship, we risk the possibility of alienating our child — pushing him or her more toward the person we don’t like in the first place!

So what is a parent to do? Consider the following tips:

Ask Yourself: Is this One Worth a Fight?
There are many reasons why a parent would not approve of a child’s romantic partner. The reasons can range from serious, to more superficial. Differences in values usually tops the “serious” list. For instance, maybe your child’s partner has a different belief system or seems irresponsible or untrustworthy. Sometimes you can’t point out a specific problem and you can’t explain your reaction rationally – it’s simply gut instinct. You have a sense from having seen the young man or woman that the partner is right for your child! You want the relationship to end.

Keep in mind that your gut instinct is a source of important information but it is not infallible. It is possible that the partner’s positive qualities have not yet  been fully revealed. Maybe you need more time before passing judgment. Or, maybe the person you are judging is so young that maturity alone will help bring things around. Before you nix the relationship, slow down and try to think it through. What are the chances that your child is going to end up marrying this person? If your child is fifteen years-old, you probably have time for him or her to learn (the hard way) that not all partners are suitable. On the other hand, if your child is having his or her first serious relationship at age twenty-eight, you may have truly valid concerns. However, the older the child the more risks you may be taking with your own parent-child relationship. Even if you choose to share your thoughts and feelings, you will have to be very careful to leave conclusions up to the child. Coming down hard with dire warnings is likely to backfire and leave you out of the loop altogether.

The more positive your parent-child relationship is, the easier it will be to speak honestly about your concerns. The more negative you tend to be – the more critical, anxious or disapproving you are – the less likely it is the your child will trust your judgment about his or her partner. Therefore, try to maintain your parental power of influence by being careful to reduce criticism and complaints in general. Save negativity for the really big things. Your child will then give your words more weight.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Relationship education can often help a child make better choices in partners. Hopefully you are modelling a healthy romantic relationship for your kids (that is, between you and your spouse!). If you and your spouse fight a lot, your child may find an abusive partner to be “normal.” Or, if you or your spouse use abusive parenting strategies  like yelling, swearing, insulting and criticizing, then your child may find such communication to be normal in a romantic partner. Therefore, do your best to demonstrate what healthy relationships look and feel like. In addition, talk to your teenagers about relationships and marriage – what should people look for in a partner, what should they be careful to avoid? There are some excellent relationship books out there – bring them home and discuss them at the dinner table or just leave them lying around the house for your kids to pick up and study on their own.

Talk to Your Child
If you do feel that you need to warn your child, then go ahead and do so. If you feel that the other person is a threat to your child’s physical and/or emotional well-being, then it’s indeed a matter worthy of an intervention. Possible reasons can include drug addiction, aggression, a history of questionable behavior, or even extreme age gaps. If this is the case, then talk to your child about your concerns — but don’t give a direct order to break up with the partner. If you deem your child as old enough to date, then you consider him or her as mature enough to make important decisions. Present your arguments in a respectful, calm and rational manner, and let your child be the one to make the conclusions. It’s fine to share your personal thoughts and feelings but don’t issue ultimatums: “It’s up to you what you do, but if I were the one with the decision, I would move on.”  Ordering your child to break up can simply lead to “Romeo and Juliet style” rebellion. The kids may continue to meet behind your back or even run away together. Avoid extreme reactions by acknowledging that the decision is truly up to your child.  Be prepared that your child may not agree with your assessment. Part of parenting is being respectful of individual boundaries.

Parenting Challenges

Every parent will encounter parenting challenges at some point. It takes about twenty years to raise a human being and during that time, lots of things come up! Experience in parenting doesn’t prevent this from happening – even raising one’s 5th or 10th child brings new challenges. This is because each child is unique. Parenting strategies that work with one child in the family, may be ineffective with another. While one youngster was “born cooperative” another might have been “born rebellious.”

Types of Issues
Here are some of the most common issues that virtually every parent faces:

  • sleeping issues (trouble sleeping, refusing to go to sleep, nightmares, trouble waking up and so on)
  • eating issues (picky eater, refuses vegetables, eats too much, has eating disorders)
  • discipline issues (won’t cooperate with discipline, is unaffected by discipline, parent doesn’t know how to discipline)
  • behavior problems (child is aggressive, doesn’t listen, is rude, is uncooperative, is impulsive, engages in risky behavior and so on)

Here are issues that many parents must help their child with:

  • fears and anxieties
  • temper, aggression, violence
  • sadness, depression
  • learning problems
  • school problems
  • eating disorders
  • various other mental health disorders
  • various developmental disorders
  • various health issues
  • trouble with the law
  • conflict with parents
  • runaway from home
  • addictions
  • experimentation with drugs, alcohol, sex
  • pregnancy, sexual disease

Children can have many other issues as well. For instance, children experience all sorts of stress – like being bullied, or socially rejected, or going through their parents’ divorce, or dealing with the death of a parent or a sibling, or dealing with illness or death in the family or extended family. In other words, just because a person is young doesn’t mean that he or she is sheltered from the challenges and stresses of life. Children react to stress in various ways – some with physical symptoms, some with emotional symptoms, and some with behavioral symptoms. When parents provide emotional support (themselves and if appropriate, through professionals), children are less likely to act out their stress or store it inside where it may surface much later in life.

Dealing with Parenting Issues
Since parenting issues are unavoidable, every parent needs to know how to deal with them. However, no one expects a parent to know everything about every possible issue that can arise in parenting. What a parent NEEDS to know, however, is how to access help, support and guidance. Parents need to be willing to talk to and learn from each other. There is no issue that has not been experienced by others before you. Go online and see what people are saying there about the particular challenge you may be facing. Speak to your doctor or pediatrician. Consult a parenting expert or mental health professional. Get your hands on a few parenting books.

Raising children is a rewarding task but certainly not an easy one. Parents need information and options. Too often, they think that their child is the only one in the world who behaves the way he or she does or who has the problems that he or she has. In fact, all kids have problems and thousands or millions have or have had the exact same one that your child has. And no – they’re not all in jail now or living on the street. And even if your child is in jail or living on the street, keep in mind that people to continue to grow and develop throughout the entire lifespan, long after they have left your care. Your child can move forward as long as he or she is alive. Keep in mind too, that science is also advancing, helping to develop new interventions to help every kind of mental and physical condition. Your child may benefit from new knowledge as it becomes available.

All this is to say that while there are going to be issues, keep your eye on the main goal for yourself as a parent. Your job is not to raise a perfect human being with no issues (sorry – but that’s impossible) but rather to be a guide along your child’s journey. You can do your best to model healthy adulthood (and we’re working on OURSELVES throughout our lifetimes too), and deal with the issues that your child presents in the healthiest way possible.

Keeping Your Child Healthy

Parents are responsible for their children’s well-being. This means that they must take steps to prevent, assess and treat health conditions. This can sometimes be frightening for parents, especially when a child is dealing with real health issues.

If you are a parent responsible for keeping your child healthy, consider the following tips:

Do What is Normal and Reasonable
Taking care of a child’s health does not mean putting him in a protective bubble where no germs, illness or accidents can occur. Life happens and parents don’t have complete control over circumstances that can affect their child. In fact, it is not a parent’s job to ensure that the child never experiences illness or pain, because this task is just not possible. What IS possible, however, is feeding the child a decent diet that provides necessary elements of nutrition, seeing that the child gets fresh air and exercise, dressing the child appropriately for various weather conditions and taking the child to his doctor for routine wellness checkups. Other than that, parents can and should allow their child to do what other kids in the neighborhood do: go swimming, have occasional junk food, skip bath night once in awhile, or even go outdoors for a short time despite having a very minor fever. In other words, there is no need to be hypervigilant. Kids are not that fragile. A germ or two might, according to some opinions, actually help build the immune system. People in this school of thought believe that over-protection actually makes the child more vulnerable to disease and accidents. Use common sense. This isn’t an invitation to send the child out into the cold night in nothing but his pajamas! However, it IS an invitation not to get hysterical if the child refuses to wear a scarf on a cool day. Do your best but be normal. Excessive fear on your part may cause the child to become fearful as well. Interestingly, fear does NOT prevent illness and if anything, may actually weaken the immune system.

Develop Healthy Routines
Although there is no need to be “germ phobic,” you can certainly help minimize contagious conditions like colds, flus and viruses in your home. Teach your kids basic hygiene. For instance, show them how to sneeze onto their sleeve rather than into their hand. When someone is sick, make sure that person has his or her own towel and cup. Even if you don’t normally use antibacterial products, this may be the time to do so. Consider spraying the living area with a mixture of essential oils that prevent germs from spreading (speak to an aromatherapist to learn how to do this). Teach your kids to wash their hands before eating, especially if they’ve been playing outside. Teach kids to brush their teeth twice daily. Help children get the right amount of sleep each night.

Do Not Give Special Attention to Sick Children
Make sure you give special attention to your healthy child! Being sick should not earn extra quality time or special privileges. You don’t want your child to learn that there is a payoff for being ill because this can lead to an increase in psychosomatic illness as well as “pretend” illness. A child who must stay home from school due to illness should NOT receive a free play day filled with treats and fun activities. Rather, he or she should be encouraged to rest and recover. Let school be more interesting than a day at home. Instead of encouraging children to get sick in order to get a day off of school every once in awhile, just offer them “mental health” days a couple of times a year – days when they are perfectly healthy and are taken out of school for quality time. Doing this one one or two days a year teaches children that it is possible to manage stress levels WITHOUT getting sick to do so.

Attend to Your Own Fears and Anxieties
If you find that you get very worried every time you or a family member has a bump, cough, pain or other physical distress, seek professional help. The right kind of help can reduce or even eliminate this kind of fear and help you enjoy life much more. Children get all sorts of symptoms, ranging from inconsequential to serious. You and your child will both cope better if you are able to maintain a calm state of mind. Many people have serious fears about illness, fearing that every minor symptom (in themselves or in someone close to them) indicates a deathly illness. This condition is called hypochondriosis. It can be treated by a mental health professional.

Parents Disagree about Discipline

It is common for any two people from different family backgrounds to have experienced their own discipline differently and therefore to have different thoughts and feelings about discipline. For example, one person may come from a home where discipline was harsh. He might react to that experience by repeating it with his own kids, feeling that although it was painful, the results were obviously successful. Or, he might react to it by vowing never to discipline his children at all. This person’s parenting partner might have come from a home where discipline was appropriately balanced with warmth and love. The partner might feel comfortable copying this “authoratative parenting style” in the family. These two parents may have trouble working together; for instance, the harsh-history parent may have no tolerance for any kind of discipline of his children, no matter how mild, reasonable, or even necessary, it might be.

The Cost of Fighting About It
The trouble is, that when parents fight about discipline, children know it and feel it. The result is often “triangulation” in the family – a situation in which the child and more lenient or more reasonable parent form an alliance against the “mean,” stricter parent. The so-called “mean,” stricter parent may actually be the healthier parent, the one who is using reasonable discipline methods. However, when pitted against a no-discipline parent, the perceived “mean” one may lose the child’s affection. In other cases, the “mean” parent really is unreasonably strict and harsh. In general, kids don’t like to be disciplined and therefore, whichever parent does it less is likely to be favored by them. This can then rob the so-called “mean” parent of ALL parental power. The nice-parent-child team discredits the other parent to the point where the child may virtually lose one parent as a life resource. While the lenient parent might be trying to protect the child from the stricter or even harsher parent, he or she may accidentally end up robbing the child of the other parent altogether. When the situation leads to divorce (see below), the child may even lose his home. Except in the case of true abuse, trying to save the child from the other parent is harmful for the child.

In addition to the effect of triangulation on the child, there is an obvious effect on the marriage. No parent likes to be disempowered by the other. Resentment builds, sometimes to the point where divorce ensues. Even if the marriage lasts, there is often bitter animosity due to triangulation.

However, triangulation isn’t the only problem that can arise out of fights about discipline. Even if the child is close to both parents equally (or distant from them both equally), the fighting itself is an intense stress in the home. Children are always troubled and sometimes even traumatized by parental conflict. They often feel deep sadness and fear – sometimes for safety of themselves or their parents, and sometimes for the sustainability of the family unit. When the subject matter of the conflict is THEM (as it is when the subject is discipline), they may feel guilty in addition to being fearful or sad. When parents fight a lot, children can become depressed and troubled in many ways. Their physical health, mental health and ability to function may all be affected. For instance, many children get stress-related headaches, stomach aches, rashes and other physical symptoms when their parents argue about discipline. They can get depressed and/or anxious and develop an array of nervous habits and acting-out types of behaviors (such as being more argumentative themselves). Their schoolwork can suffer as well.

How Not to Fight about it
When parents have radically different views of what should happen in discipline, they need to work to get more on the same page. It could be that each parent has to move a little away from his or her own position and a little closer to the partner’s position. There are different ways for this to happen.

Parents can take a parenting course together. Learning philosophies and strategies from an objective outsider is often far easier than taking instruction from one’s spouse. While this outsider may be a parenting insructor in a group setting, it can also be a private practitioner (such as a family therapist, psychologist or other mental health professional). Choose a professional who has a special expertise in parenting in order to get the most helpful guidance. Parents can also read and discuss a parenting book together (have a book-club a deux) or look up questions and answers on-line together.

Another strategy to attain a meeting of the minds on the subject of discipline, is to refrain from criticizing your partner’s parenting EVER. If you don’t like what your spouse is doing, approach him or her with curiosity and a desire to understand rather than with complaint and criticism. For instance, suppose your spouse gave your son a negative consequence on Monday for failing to come home by his curfew (“you’ve lost your cell phone for a week…”). On Tuesday, you see that your spouse has returned your son’s cell phone to him already, clearly failing to follow through with discipline. Avoid approaching your spouse in a confrontational manner – “If you never carry through, he’ll never learn”…etc. Instead, you ASK your spouse what made him or her change his mind. Ask this with genuine curiousity, not with bitter sarcasm. Greet the answer with Emotional Coaching (empathic listening and naming of feelings). For example, imagine that your spouse explains, “I felt bad for him. He really needs that phone.” You might respond with, “You’re such a good mom/dad – you really care about him! I’m just wondering how we’re going to help him come home on time – I get so worried when he stays out past his curfew – I really want us to be able to get this through to him. What do you think we should do about it?”  If every disciplinary difference of opinion is handled in a caring, respectful manner, the parents will be able to negotiate their differences and find ways to do what’s best for the kids – eventually.

Finally, parents who are too harsh or too lenient in their discipline styles tend to love their children and are trying to do what they think is best for the child. Because of this, most people can see the wisdom of applying the 80-20 Rule. The 80-20 Rule is the ideal good-feeling to bad-feeling ratio of parenting communications to children. Laughter, praise, gifts, physical affection, empathy, and any other good-feeling communication needs to happen 4 times for every 1 bad-feeling communication like giving an instruction, correction, complaint, threat of punishment, actual punishment and so on. Moreover, the bad-feeling communications need to be only mildy-bad-feeling. Otherwise, they can completely wipe out the positive effects of the good-feeling communications, no matter how many there might have been. Full details on the 80-20 Rule are available in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Children’s Emotions After Divorce or Separation

Parental divorce or separation is a painful process — for everyone concerned. No amount of careful preparation, heart-to-heart talk, and therapy can make it less agonizing— just more manageable. After all, a loved one is technically saying goodbye. Even if everyone remains be a part of each other’s lives after the marital dissolution, the reality is: nothing will ever be the same.

In order to help children deal with the impact of divorce or separation, it’s important that parents know the roller-coaster of emotions kids go through during the process. The following are some of what children feel after divorce or separation:

Shock
“I knew the situation was bad, but I wasn’t aware it was that bad.”

Kids are often blindsided by their parent’s decision to divorce or separate. To protect children from family problems, parents tend to keep their kids out of the loop. Consequently, the news of finally ending the marriage comes as a big shock. And even if some outward sign of fighting exists, kids being naturally optimistic often think that the fighting is temporary and can be resolved. Even in homes where divorce is threatened openly and frequently, children often “get used” to the threat as just a common part of fighting – they can still be shocked when parents finally act on their words. Children who may not be so shocked are those who have experienced parental divorce before, and have some idea of what is going on.

Anger
Anger is a normal emotion felt by children undergoing parental divorce and separation. The anger can be directed towards one particular parent, the parent whom the child feels is to blame for the marriage not working out. The anger can also be directed to both parents; kids may feel that mom and dad didn’t try hard enough to save their family. In some cases, children may just be angry at the situation. They empathize with their parents well enough, but they would understandably rather that they don’t suffer such a major loss.

Self-blame
Children do blame themselves for parental divorce or separation. Because of the old philosophy of “staying married for the children’s sake,” kids may have the idea that parental love of kids should be enough to keep a couple together. Thus, when a marriage breaks down, kids feel like they failed in providing their parents a reason to try harder. Older children may blame themselves for not doing enough to save the marriage — maybe they’ve already noticed that something is wrong but didn’t say anything about it. Younger children may think that the divorce or separation is directly or indirectly caused by their behavior. It’s not unusual, for example, for a pre-schooler to irrationally conclude that the divorce or separation pushed through because parents are always fighting about their performance in school.

Fear
The source of security in a family is the parents’ stable marriage. A divorce or separation, therefore, can be quite unsettling for a child. Where would the family live? How will they earn enough income to support everyone? Would we have to live with somebody new? And are there any more jarring changes coming our way? There are so many question marks after a divorce or separation that being afraid is just an expected reaction.

Sadness
And of course, kids feel sadness and even depression during this stressful time. There are many losses that come after a divorce or separation, some of which can never be recovered. Understandably a new living arrangement has to be negotiated, and it’s possible that a child will have to give up proximity to a parent once all the legalities are finalized. Siblings may even end up living in different residences. There are also intangible losses, like the loss of dreams about the family. Sadness is a natural part of grieving for a loss, and is a normal reaction among children during parental divorce or separation.

Dealing with Children’s Feelings
The key to helping children with their feelings about divorce is to let them have their feelings. Don’t try to cheer them up or talk them out of their negative emotions. Doing so may cause the feelings to go underground where they might fester, show up as depression or anxiety later, re-route to physical aches and pains or manifest in various types of behavioral challenges. Letting kids be appropriately upset is the healthiest way to help them feel better faster. This is NOT the time to show sympathy by letting them know that YOU also feel scared, mad and sad. Save your feelings for your meeting with your therapist or for discussion with your adult friends. Your kids have already lost one parent; they must not lose another. They really need you now and even though you yourself may be going through intense emotional challenges, it is unfair to unload that onto your children. They will feel that they have to be strong and help YOU or they will feel that they don’t want to add to your burdens by sharing their real misery. What they need from you now is a listening ear and a good model of coping. When they see that you are NOT falling apart, it will give them hope that they will get through this too. If you are, in fact, having a very hard time, seeking professional counseling will help both you and your kids.

New Baby – Interfering In-laws

Parents-in-law can be wonderful assets in one’s family life but sometimes they can present tremendous challenge. Often,  it’s a little of both! And when one’s in-laws become the grandparents of one’s new baby, one’s relationship with them often takes on a new curve. Focus is diverted away from the adult children, to the new baby instead. But what does one do when in-laws are a bit too helpful or too opinionated, too needy or too intrusive?

If you have an interfering in-law, consider the following:

Start with Understanding
Babies are exciting! And if this is the first grandchild, you can especially understand the enthusiasm of your in-laws. In fact, you’d probably be disappointed if they showed no interest whatsoever in your new child. Moreover, if this is a first grandchild, keep in mind that your in-laws don’t yet know where to put themselves, don’t know the boundaries, don’t yet know the place of the grandparent. Even if this is not the first grandchild, your in-laws may not, for some reason, know how to behave appropriately. (In many cases, there are obvious reasons why they don’t know). You can, in a gentle and respectful way, begin to set boundaries in a way that your in-laws might be able to benefit from. For instance, you can say “Oh, thanks Mom – but we prefer to give the baby her bath ourselves.” Even if Mom-in-law is upset by this, you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re not responsible for her upset, unless you’ve abused her by being insulting, loud or harsh. Being quietly persistent with your wishes can set the boundaries over time.

Be One With Your Spouse in Planning How to Draw the Line
What if your in-laws are the stubborn type? They contradict your guidance, make major decisions without consulting you, and usurps what you feel is your role in child-rearing? Your spouse may be able to help. In some cases, your spouse is actually your best ally in negotiating boundaries. MAKE SURE YOU TREAT HIM OR HER LIKE AN ALLY rather than someone who is on the enemy team. Let your spouse know that you want to enjoy his or her parents  and have them actively in your family’s life. Ask for your spouse’s help in making the relationship workable and positive.

Your spouse knows your in-laws a lot more than you do. He or she will know how to approach them without creating further complications. Let your spouse deliver strong messages if he or she is willing to, so that you can stay out of it and maintain a good relationship with your in-laws. However, sometimes spouses cannot stand up to their parents or do not know how to properly support their partner. If your spouse will not draw the line, don’t despair: draw it yourself. Again, remaining respectful is the key. However, in the case of “difficult” in-laws, expect a more negative response. They will have to comply (because, after all, your baby is YOUR baby and YOUR kids are YOUR kids and YOUR home is YOUR home), but they might put up a big fuss. They can go ahead and do that if they want to and you can’t stop them. Again, their reaction is not your responsibility. Only YOUR behavior is your responsibility. As long as you have remained respectful, you have done nothing wrong. Be careful to NEVER raise your voice to them, never swear or use harsh language, never insult them. Suppose, for instance, that they want to feed your 4 month-old baby some solid food while you want the baby to be at least 8 months-old before starting solids. You see your father-in-law putting a spoonful of mashed food into your baby’s mouth! You go up to the man and say, quietly but firmly, “Dad. I believe I told you that I don’t want to give Jason food yet.  Doctor’ s orders!” You then remove the baby and resolve to yourself to stay in the same room with the baby and the father-in-law until the child reaches the ready-to-eat food stage.

Use the Parent Card
It’s possible that the reason why your in-laws are extremely hands-on with their child is because they feel they are the more experienced ones when it comes to parenting — and they are! Communicate with them that, while you appreciate their presence and their help, you also want to learn the thrills and frustrations of parenting first hand.

Their advice is welcome, but this is your family; you may do things differently than they did. Ask them to give you and your spouse a chance, and assure them that you both will do the best that you can because you love your child and your family.

Assure Them That You’re not Taking their Rights as Grandparents
If your in-laws express concern that you are preventing them from developing a relationship with their grandchild, explain to them that they are always welcome to bond with their grandkids. But when it comes to particular issues, you and your spouse will be the in the lead role, and them in the supporting role. Clarify that this doesn’t mean they are not needed, and that they their role is not critical. In fact, let them know just how loved, important and needed they really are.

Compliment your In-laws
Let your in-laws know how much you appreciate them. Be generous with praise (“You’re so great with the children. No wonder they love you so much!”). Express gratitude freely (“Thank you SO MUCH for babysitting. You are the BEST!”). Buy the occasional gift (“I picked up some of your favorite chocolate for you.”) Let them overhear you speaking well of them (“Grandma & Grandpa are very hands-on – we’re so lucky.”). Do whatever you can to make them feel loved and valued – this is usually the easiest and surest way to gain their cooperation and reduce conflict.

Don’t Blame your Spouse
Hopefully your spouse loves his or her parents. If you have complaints about your in-laws, try to share them with your friends or therapist rather than your spouse. Your spouse can’t help who his parents are. It’s hard enough having difficult in-laws – don’t make your life even more miserable by fighting with your partner about them. Keep your marriage strong by keeping your complaints as rare as possible. If necessary, arrange for a couple’s session with a professional therapist in order to address difficult in-law issues without hurting your relationship.

Having Trouble Liking Your Children

We can’t order a child from the mail-order-child catalogue – “Please give me one who is as sweet as sugar, totally obedient, very clever, likes what I like, makes a good first impression, makes a good lasting impression – and is also very attractive.”  Instead, we roll the dice, conceive a child, and take what comes. Sometimes what comes is disappointing.

Not What I Ordered
For instance, parents can find themselves with a child who is stubborn and willful by nature and who uses that will to do the exact opposite of what the parents want. The parents want an athlete; the child is a bookworm. The parents want a scholar; the child is an artist. The parents want a socialite; the child is a loner.

Parents value certain behaviors, traits and activities more than others. They are certainly entitled to their preferences. However, they are not entitled to try to turn their kids into something they are not. Rather, it is the parent’s job to work with what they have, to educate the child according to that child’s innate characteristics and inclinations. In order to do this, parents have to mourn the loss of their “ideal” child. They have to come to terms with the reality of the child who has been delivered to them.

Accepting Each Child
Emotional intelligence is fostered by acceptance. When parents accept the validity of a child’s worldview – the child’s feelings, perceptions and views – the child comes to know him or herself better. Reflecting back the child’s experience helps the child to hear his or her own thoughts and considerations. “You don’t like reading? You find it boring?” the parent reflects back to the youngster who refuses to pick up a book. The child can listen and reflect upon the parent’s reflection. “It’s not that I don’t like reading – it’s that I don’t like reading big novels. I like short books with pictures!”

When a parent starts by accepting what the child is expressing, the child’s understanding of him or herself can grow. Imagine, however, if the parent responded to the reluctant reader with outrage: “WHAT? YOU HAVE TO READ BOOKS! YOU CAN’T GET ANYWHERE IN THIS WORLD UNLESS YOU READ!” The child will then experience confusion, hurt, anger and upset. Instead of growing in understanding, the child will shrink in emotional intelligence. Although parents have a right to want to influence and guide their youngsters, they must find a way to do this without shoving, pushing and squashing. Respectfully accepting the child where he or she is at is the healthy starting point, the point that builds emotional intelligence.

Accepting and Letting Go
When a parent strives to understand the child’s worldview, the parent also expands in understanding and awareness. There are different ways of being. Gentle acceptance of the child leads to gentle acceptance of differences. The child, after all, is not the parent. Acceptance is the key in fostering emotional intelligence. Accepting that the child prefers to be alone or prefers to be with others all the time means accepting that the child is a unique individual with his or her own mission in this world. Respectfully reflecting those preferences back to the child, accepting the child’s right to be different, allows the child to grow and flourish as an individual. Allowing the child to be who he or she is, is a gift that fosters love, mutual respect and, of course, emotional intelligence.

Fighting in the Family

In most families there is some fighting. There are inevitably arguments, some bickering, hassling each other and, usually, some sort of fighting. Whether all this is harmful to the kids or  not depends on its frequency and intensity. An angry outburst once a year is probably harmless, providing that it involves no physical abuse, aggression or threats of divorce. Fights that happen every couple of weeks or more are likely to be very disturbing to the kids. Too much conflict threatens the basic stability of the family. Even if the fights are relatively mild, the unpleasant scenes make children feel unsettled and insecure. If the fighting is loud, scary, and very emotional, it is particularly disturbing to the kids. It can even lead to children’s nightmares, nervous habits, school problems and behavior problems. Parents really need to limit their conflict, if not for their own sake, then at least for the sake of the children.

Actions to Avoid in Fighting
Some ground rules for conflict will help preserve marriages and make children feel safer. Here is a list of things NEVER to do when arguing with a spouse:

  • never slam a door, hang up a phone or storm out of a house
  • never swear
  • never call names or hurl hurtful, diminishing insults
  • never threaten violence
  • never threaten divorce
  • never shout
  • never drive “crazy” when arguing in a car

Keeping Kids Safe
By deescalating conflict, parents can help their kids enjoy a safe family life. Arguing quietly and respectfully provides a healthy model for the kids too. It shows them how to behave toward their parents and toward their own spouses one day. (Providing a bad model of conflict resolution means that kids will learn the “wrong” way to behave in marriage and it also means that they never get to see the “right” way – their lives will be harder because of this.) The short list of what-not-to-do when arguing is within the reach of all normal people. Only those with serious mental illness cannot control their hostility – healthy adults can LEARN to change their destructive behavior patterns. It make take a few months to totally remove all frightening behaviors from one’s repertoire, but that’s O.K. Once it’s done, a parent can give his or her child the gift of security. Even if only one parent is able to make the change, the kids will benefit. What’s worse than one parent losing control? Two parents losing control! Don’t wait for your spouse to change; make your own changes today.

Marriage Counseling
If change is difficult, or despite removing destructive behaviors there are still numerous marital issues, do your kids a favor and get marital counseling. Choose a counselor who is pro-marriage (not all are). Ask someone to help you reduce conflict and provide a calmer, more loving and more stable home environment. And don’t wait until you’re on the verge of divorce to do this. Do it now. You may be amazed at how powerfully positive marriage counseling can be.

Parents Set the Tone
It’s up to you. Parents set the tone in the home. You can’t expect your kids to do better at self-control than you can – you’ve got to show them the way and give them something to strive toward. Read books, take courses, seek counseling, but most of all – determine to remove destructive communication from your personal repetoire. You can do it!

When Mother Feels Guilty

We can start each day wanting to do better. In fact – lucky for us – we can start each minute that way! Did I just scream at you? Oops! Let me say that again more quietly. Did I just call you an unpleasant name? I’m so sorry! I’m going to take steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Whatever I did wrong (for the last twenty years), discount I can still set right. In fact, cialis that’s the purpose of my life – to continuously improve my ways.

Slow Progress
Good intentions, however, are not enough. They rarely lead to actual changes in our thoughts or actions. A parent can “wish” to be a better parent every day while making no real progress toward that goal. How many years can pass by while a parent “wishes” to remove anger from her parenting toolbox! Meanwhile, little psyches are developing, absorbing the parent of now, today’s level of competence. How long can they wait for us to become models worth emulating?

No Time for Guilt
Such thoughts might lead some mothers to fall into their favorite emotional dark hole: the endless pit of guilt. However, feeling guilty about our personal failings isn’t necessary or productive. Of course we have human faults and imperfections. That’s a given. Our children and spouses are no better. The task is not to become perfect but simply to move forward. We’re just supposed to be working on ourselves, inch by inch, day by day. So we can pick a small area in which we perceiving a lacking and construct a program of rehabilitation for that one quality or tendency.

For instance, perhaps a mother feels that she’s too critical with her kids. She knows she picked up the trait from her own mother and she doesn’t want to pass it on to her kids and through them, to her grandchildren! Her oldest is already seven, so time is of the essence. She wants to change this behavior NOW!

Clearly, feeling guilty will not help. In fact, after spurring one on momentarily, guilt can lead to discouragement, despair, hopelessness and resignation. It’s an emotion that is generated by one’s own critical inner parent as it voices disapproval: “You’re such an awful mother. Your kids are going to hate you like you hate your mother. You never learn from your mistakes….” After listening to such inner abuse, who wouldn’t feel guilty and doomed to failure? The trick in dealing with guilt is to send the inner critic on a little trip to outer space. Tell that voice that no abuse is allowed in your inner world, so it has to leave – and then picture it being tossed into a sound-proof, sealed box and thrust far, far out of your head. Then, replace it with a healthy, helpful inner parent – one that is remarkably like the parent you are hoping to become. This gentle voice offers encouragement and structure. “It’s a new moment in time – the perfect moment for change. Let’s start by drawing up a plan that will help you achieve your goal of becoming less critical” (more patient, more affectionate, less stressed, less reactive, more upbeat, less judgmental, better at saying “no,” better at setting boundaries, more flexible……or whatever particular trait you decide to tackle).

The Plan
Let your inner, compassionate parent help you create a structure for change. Together you can outline the strategy (read a book, take a class, seek counseling, set up a buddy system) and gently review progress on a daily basis. Purchase a little book to keep track of your target behavior – rate it each evening between 1 (needs a lot of improvement) and 10 (outstanding accomplishment) and make little helpful comments in the margin (“remember to eat 3 meals to maintain equilibrium,” “take a power nap before kids get home to help raise this score tomorrow,” “remember to purchase little treats to reinforce this high score,” “review chapter 3 in anger book,” and so on). Know for certain that you will achieve your goal if you track it this way and make the adjustments you need to make in order for you to be able to consistently meet your target behavior. When you’re consistently achieving your goal, then target a new aspect of personal development and start a new page in your book.

Hold onto your book and use it as proof that you can change. Use this evidence to encourage yourself for all the future programs of change that you undertake. Take advantage of the new moment, the new day and the new year – so many opportunities for beautiful new beginnings!